Unless you happen to be a particular fan of Southern cuisine, you probably don’t think much about black-eyed peas. Except maybe around New Year’s, when it’s customary, again by Southern tradition, to cook up a pot of Hoppin’ John for good luck (a practice that’s seemingly been adopted far and wide, if the sudden scarcity of black-eyed peas in my local markets toward the end of the year is any indication.)
But my thoughts start turning to black-eyed peas in the late summer, when fresh okra starts turning up at the local green market. (Okra haters, put your thoughts on hold a moment and hear me out.) I was always intrigued to see the flocks of women from a nearby Caribbean neighborhood huddled over mounds of okra when they appeared at one farm stand, carefully picking through and loading up sackfuls. They offered helpful advice for selecting the most tender pods: pick up a few of the smaller ones and test them by flicking the pointy end with your thumb. If it bends easily, it’s tender. If it snaps off, as tends to happen when the pods get too big, the okra will be tougher and stringier.
In years since, I’ve joined them at the farm stand for the short period when okra appears, using my stash in a pot of West African Beans and Okra. The recipe, originally , from the excellent World Food Cafe vegetarian cookbook, picks up a pairing commonly found in recipes of the region. The stew is spiked with cayenne and thyme, and served with rice. A variation on Hoppin’ John? Perhaps. But it’s one that chases a bit of luck into the end of summer, taking advantage of the bounty of produce, including green beans and tomatoes. And OK, okra haters, if you must, you can always substitute zucchini or other summer squash.
This summer was the time to finally try another black-eyed pea recipe clipped some years ago from Bon Appetit, for Redeye-Glazed Pork with Black-Eyed Peas. Here pork tenderloin is brushed during roasting with a glaze inspired by the classic Southern red-eye gravy, that clever use of leftover coffee. It’s served with black-eyed peas drizzled with a spiced butter made by infusing melted butter with coriander and fennel seeds, cayenne pepper and lemon peel. It would be easy to forgo the extra step of making the spiced butter, but don’t be tempted. Just a little bit elevates basic black-eye peas into an elegant side. (Canned black-eyed peas can also be substituted for the dried beans; you’ll want about 3-4 cups for the full recipe.)
A plus — any leftover spiced butter is delicious stirred into a pot of rice just before serving. Maybe for rice dished up another day with West African Beans and Okra. Or if you’re an actual okra lover, in our Red Okra Soup.
A final note on okra from the kind cooks of Caribbean Brooklyn. For a quick take on fried okra, slice pods crosswise, toss then in a mix of cornmeal, salt and ground cayenne pepper or paprika, for a light coating. Stir fry in a bit of very hot oil until browned and crisped.